Rory McIlroy And The Changing Landscape Of Golf

For the second time in as many years, Rory McIlroy blistered the field in one of golf's major championships in route to winning in record setting fashion. This performance by the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland leads further credence to the idea that he will be the new face of the game for the foreseeable future.

When Tiger Woods was in his dominant form pre-fire hydrant, it was often said that if he was playing up to his capabilities that it didn't matter how anyone else in the field was performing on that particular day; his best was just simply that much better than every other player on tour. Though it's still only a small sample size, it is looking more and more like the same can be said for Rory McIlroy. This past weekend at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island he was been able to put it all together and peak at the right time, winning by a record eight shots.

With the win, Rors was able to salvage what had been an up and down year. Greatness had long been predicted for the golf prodigy, and after winning the 2011 U.S. Open by a record score of 16-under par it was presumed he was well on his way. His 2012 season started off good with a win at the Honda Classic, but after missing numerous cuts and uneven performances in the year's first three majors, you started hearing stories come out questioning Rory's commitment level. Had his head had gotten too big after winning his first major? Was his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki negatively impacting his work ethic and limiting his practice time?

Rory left little doubt about the state of his game following his dominant performance at The Ocean Course. He turned Kiawah Island into his personal playground, pummeling balls off of the tee and throwing them in close for countless birdie opportunities. Rory had the bounce and swagger back in his step, and by the weekend the CBS announce team was talking about him (and his golf game) with the same kind of reverence they used to routinely heap on Tiger back in the day.

Much like a year ago, following this resounding performance Rory will once again be labeled as "The Next Big Thing (Brock Lesnar ™) in golf and the man poised to litter his trophy case with major championship trophies. This could very well be the case, but if the last few years have proved anything it's that the level of competition in golf is absurd right now; in any given week any player can emerge victorious. Up until Rory's victory yesterday there had been 16 different victors in golf's last 16 majors, a clear demonstration of the level of parity on Tour these days.

If you take a glance at the golfers who have yet to win a major, you will see a number of great players still vying to win the big one-players such as Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner, and Rickie Fowler. Westwood in particular has been knocking on the door for years now at the majors with no luck to date. Odds are that eventually a few of these players will come through with a Darren Clarke/Bubba Watson type of breakthrough, making it increasingly difficult for any one player to string together major victory after major victory.

Then there are the young players who have already won a major championship that have the kind of golf games that will keep them relevant in upcoming tournaments. Graeme McDowell is a bulldog on the course and always seems to be near the top of the leaderboard in majors. Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba both hit the ball a country mile, and there down to the wire finish at the Masters this past April was one of the highlights of the golf season. Keegan Bradley came out of nowhere to win the 2011 PGA Championship, and only a year later is the twelfth ranked player in the world and one of the game's brightest young stars.

Of course, we can't forget the old guard of Tiger, Ernie Els, and Phil Mickelson. The sheer number of outstanding players on tour right now might put the kibosh on Tiger's aspirations to one day pass Jack's total of eighteen majors, but his game is coming around to the extent that it isn't unreasonable to think he will notch a few more. Ernie Els won the British Open in July following a memorable back nine, proving that the "Big Easy" still has the length and game to remain viable against the younger generation of players. And while Lefty has had a down year by his lofty standards, I get the sense that like Freddie Couples he will be a factor at Augusta National well into his fifties.

Where does this all leave Rory? The golf world appears ready for him to be the sport's next transcendent player, this generation's "Tiger". He has all the requisite tools necessary to be the game's best player for a long time, but the level of talent across the board will continue to be his primary obstacle. There is an eclectic mix of old, young, and up and coming players filling out the ranks these days, and I can only envision the skill of players on tour growing as Rory's career progresses.

T-minus eight months and counting until the Masters...

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